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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Flying Camel
and the Golden Hump

Aharon Megged

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To purchase The Flying Camel and the Golden Hump

Title: The Flying Camel and the Golden Hump
Author: Aharon Megged
Genre: Novel
Written: 1982 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 325 pages
Original in: Hebrew
Availability: The Flying Camel and the Golden Hump - US
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The Flying Camel and the Golden Hump - India
Le Chameau volant à la bosse d'or - France
Das fliegende Kamel mit dem goldenen Höcker - Deutschland
  • Hebrew title: הגמל המעופף ודבשת הזהב
  • Translated by Vivian Eden

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Our Assessment:

A : wonderful story-telling, very entertaining, and clever, too

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Flying Camel and the Golden Hump is a terribly elaborate title, and a lot to burden a book with. It's with some relief that one finds that it specifically refers to (and is, in fact, also) the title of a (different) novel by the narrator of this book -- which itself is presented as a first-person account (rather than a work of fiction) by a reasonably successful and still fairly young author, Kalman Keren. His other 'The Flying Camel and the Golden Hump' also plays a role in this novel, but it is only one part of what is a multi-faceted faux autobiographical work.
        A summary of the novel -- such as the blurb on the back cover -- can also easily be misleading, especially since the basic idea is one with such obvious (comic) potential. Yes, the book is Kalman Keren's account of what happens when a couple move into the apartment above his and it turns out that they are the much-hated literary critic Professor Schatz and his very beautiful wife. But this isn't merely a book about the overlap of literary and domestic antagonism -- in fact, that's only a fairly small part of the novel. Instead, Kalman, kept from the work he wants to be doing, regales the reader with all sorts of stories from his past and present: a recently divorced man he's not quite having a mid-life crisis, but he certainly is being forced to think about what's become of his life, and how it's come to this, and it's this that slowly unfolds across these pages.
       Megged is a grand story-teller and very fine literary craftsman, and the novel flows effortlessly forward even as he jumps about in time and focus. He doesn't proceed in any obvious order, and it takes a while for Kalman to get around to describing his failed marriage, for example. The book he is not writing is occasionally alluded to, but it's not before page 205 that Kalman decides: "The time has come for me to say something about the book I am not writing". But rarely does it feel like things have deliberately been withheld: it's presented all in good time, and even if the authorial voice -- in this case raised very much through Kalman, himself a writer who knows all the tricks -- breaks in and reminds the reader that there are literary games being played here this too hardly seems out of place or too forced.
       Kalman works at home, and with Schatz moving into the apartment above his the private sphere is no longer as comfortably isolated as he would like -- "a man's home, I thought, is no longer his castle but his trap !" The small apartment building, 39 Avigdor Street in Tel Aviv, is a functioning little system, and Schatz upsets the balance: tyrannical and set in his own ways, he's not very adaptable to being a part of this community. Among his complaints: Kalman keeps some rabbits on the roof, and just as Kalman is irritated by Schatz's typing late into the night, Schatz complains about the noise and smell of the hares (as he incorrectly calls them).
       Kalman tries to avoid Schatz at all costs, peeking out of his apartment to make sure the coast is clear before venturing out, though Schatz pretty much ignores Kalman (and everyone else) anyway. Complicating matters is the much more agreeable Mrs. Schatz, who not only likes Kalman's writing but is also quite the tempting beauty (very much in contrast to the woman Kalman used to be married to).
        The apartment-building strife makes for some enjoyable comedy, but Megged doses it carefully. Kalman enters the Schatzs' apartment in their absence twice soon after they move in, each time for a reason but also one that, due to the circumstances, he doesn't choose to reveal to them, but this doesn't escalate. Kalman's other form of harassment is more distant, but he also doesn't take it to all extremes, stopping himself rather than continuing to engage in this psychological warfare. When there are casualties -- someone does go tumbling down the stairs, and some innocent creatures also pay a price for these games -- Kalman is only indirectly responsible (but enough to share in some of the blame, as all could have been avoided).
       Schatz may be the driven, ruthless critic, certain of being always in the right, but Kalman is also pretty full and sure of himself. One project he is working on is his translation of Rabelais -- though he admits he's in a bit over his head with it. But then there's his true ambition, that book that he claims Schatz is preventing him from writing, a book he means to be nothing less than:

the book to end all books. The ultimus liber. Something parallel to a "universal field theory" in physics. That is to say, a book after which it will be impossible to write any more books, for there will be nothing more to write. It will be both allegory and its interpretation. Thesis and antithesis. Signifier and signified. The deconstruction of itslef and of literature per se.
       With Schatz's main work being on allegory -- or rather 'Against Allegory' (so the title of his first book, for example) -- these battlelines are obviously also drawn both in and with the book, and so, yes, The Flying Camel and the Golden Hump is also a very literary game. But, again, Megged handles all this so easily and effortlessly that the reader can engage the text on that level as much or as little as s/he cares to: it works just fine just as pure story, with the rest just icing on the cake there for those who want to enjoy it.
       The Flying Camel and the Golden Hump does get a bit far-flung towards the end, but it's a pleasure to read. Megged is a remarkably sure-handed writer, and despite the light, comic touch and fairly short chapters there's a lot of depth here too.
       Certainly recommended.

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The Flying Camel and the Golden Hump: Reviews: Aharon Megged:
  • Aharon Megged at the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature
Other books by Aharon Megged under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Israeli author Aharon Megged (אהרון מגד) was born in Poland in 1920. He died in 2016.

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